Me and the Mrs had been umming and arring for ages about where to go and what to do for a holiday. We were both busy with work and time was seemingly disappearing at an alarming rate as always. I came across a documentary on ‘Netflix’ called ‘Chefs Table’. Having begun life as a chef I still maintain a deep passion for good quality food and fine wine, one shared by my lovely lady. The opening episode was about Massimo Bottura and his restaurant Osteria Francescana (rated as the second best restaurant in the world). It’s about how he helped to deal with the fall out of a bad Earthquake in 2012 which threatened to destroy the Parmesan cheese factories, as hundreds of thousands of wheels of cheese had been damaged in the powerful quake. An idea was born but first we had to get a reservation. We check it out on their website and the order book only stretches three months into the future. It’s obviously completely fully booked, but they release the dates for the following month in a few days so we can try and book it then.
Flick (said Mrs) checks out the site first thing about 7.30am and nothing is showing. We decide to snooze for an hour and try again. She returns to the site an hour later, and to our horror, every single last solitary booking has been taken. WTF???? Luckily Flick put us on the waiting list for a number of dates and the very next day a place opens up for a lunch spot. We take it, and so we have the start of our holiday, albeit a very loosely planned version of it, which includes a meal and going to see some cheese…..
Further research confirmed my suspicions that Modena was somewhere close to the home of Ferrari. As it happens there are Ferrari museums in both Modena and in Maranello, the latter being where Ferrari HQ is. This is where they are designed, test and built. The F1 Team is here, along with the famous Maranello test circuit, where I have seen some tickets online to test drive Ferrari’s at a reasonable price.
A few more weeks passed and I began toying with the idea that maybe this trip should be the one where I finally popped the question. I began thinking of what other things we could do that would make the trip extra special, for just such an occasion. Then I remembered, not long after we had met, we caught an episode of Top Gear based around Lake Como in Northern Italy. I remember saying out loud at the time ‘we have to go hire a nice car and drive round that place one day, it looks epic!’. I frantically start Google mapping and quickly ascertain that Lake Como isn’t too far from Modena, just under 3hrs. I also know that the Stelvio Pass is around this area, which I had heard is the highest mountain pass in Europe. It’s too far when I look, but I do notice the Piz Bernina range. The range is home to the famous Piz Badile, one of the 6 ‘Great North Faces’ of the Alps. As a keen climber and alpinist, this is beginning to shape up nicely. Plus I want some mountain roads to drive around. I love nothing more than to be in the mountains, and I have seen some of the indulgent footage often aired by Top Gear of mountain roads with hardly any other cars on the road.
So pretty soon we have an itinerary put together. Hotels are booked and we plan the route. 4 days in and around Modena, then head up towards Lake Como and the Mountains.
It’s October, and I’m in Portugal for a spot of golfing with the lads, and I am deep in thought about the whole proposal thingy. I am pretty sure by this point that I am going to do it so I start looking at which car I am going to hire to take up to the mountains and make the holiday’s final part, truly something to remember. I begin looking at websites and options. Plenty to choose from out there. There was a certain allure towards an Aston Martin, being as some of Casino Royal was filmed at Lake Como. But they weren’t cheap. There were some pretty reasonable options for Porsche Boxters, and the 911’s weren't too stupid either. But what I really want is a convertible. I want us to be able to take in the beautiful views around Lake Como and then later, the Piz Bernina mountains. Wait……whats that, holy crap that looks like it would really do the trick, and being Italian would just be so fitting. I click onto the Ferrari 458 Spider. Wow. I laugh out loud at the prospect, but decide to enquire on the price just for some fun anyway. It comes back at 4 times the price of what the Porsche Boxster would cost, and additional mileage is going to cost €5 per kilometre! I stare at it on the website, ponder, dream, dribbling at the thought. With an upfront damage deposit of €10,000, god it would only take one person to reverse into me and well, I would be seriously out of pocket.
So after my brush with motorsport Nirvana, I decide that the Boxster is far more of a sensible option and only a fraction of the cost. I run it past Flick and she seems very excited. I mentioned the Ferrari, she just laughed down the phone. Still, I couldn’t get it out of my mind……
I have had pretty much every day of my golfing holiday ruined by work. I shouldn’t complain because we are on the verge of winning a large bunch of IT Projects and running your own business means you never get to really take proper holidays, you are always working. Still the exact same thing had happened the year before, ruining half of my holiday and this time around work was taking over the whole thing. I am in the buggy emailing, out for a quick golf shot and then back to the buggy for more frantic taping on the iphone.
As the holiday dragged on, I manage to close the first few parts of the deal and the idea of the Ferrari returned with a vengeance. ‘Come on Dave, you only live once. You only propose once, do it, do it, do it!’
I wrestle with the cost and the risk. I know the Mrs will think it’s completely ridiculous, but then she will love it also. FUCK IT! I begin typing out an email to King Rent and a few others to get my bearings. I liaise back and forth with Gianni at KingRent.com and we agree a price, some extra miles included and a slight reduction in the damage deposit from 10 to 8k.
I call Flick like an excited child, ‘You will NOT believe what I just did!!!’
Arriving in Milan around 9am, we collect our hire car for the next 4 days and begin our journey towards Modena. As usual we have the standard Italian drivers trying to peer up your colon on the motorway. I just don’t get their mentality! I feel some revenge coming on later anyway so I let it ride for now.
We pull into the sleepy town of Modena about midday and find our apartment. With a quick reccy to figure out where a good local Balsamic producers resides, we head off for a look. Driving along, it has a very rural, rustic feel to the place. We finally find San Donino, a third generation producer of some of Italy’s finest balsamic vinegar. It’s a pretty simple, but time consuming process. Basically, they start with a big barrel, and each year decant 10% down to the next smaller barrel. Usually having 5 or more barrels in the process. They get smaller and smaller as time goes on, and eventually through a process of evaporation, and aging for flavour, you get the final product. After a tasting of their various wares, including a delicious walnut digestif liqueur and a balsamic jelly, and being relieved of €450 that was Christmas sorted, for everyone! Sweet!
The next day saw us head over to the Ferrari factory at Maranello. Ball ache to find the right place, largely due to the Sat Nav not understanding Italian I think. Got to the car park, walked into one building, and promptly got ushered out with some Italian expletives and some finger pointing.
Now hopefully headed in the right direction, it all became clear that what I had found previously on a website thinking I could drive a Ferrari around the circuit was not as I had originally thought. They have a garage (independent I think) where you can take them out on the roads. All of a sudden the pricing that seemed reasonable now looked like a full blown rip off. No driving round the Maranello circuit for me today then.
We find the museum eventually. Personally I was most excited about having a crack in the F1 simulator. Anyhow, we arrived, booked the bus tour and had to get on it straight away. The tour is a 20 minute affair. They call it the ‘Factory tour’. You don’t get off the bus just so you know. We drive round and see the outsides of the buildings and have some reasonably interesting compare speaking away. I was hoping for something a bit more here but all in all it wasn’t too bad. Albeit you don’t really see anything, but you get a lot of interesting tit bits.
The simulator is € 25 for 8 mins. I book a double session and get in. The guy goes to do my seat belts up. I look at him and say ‘really’? I ask for the pro set up and head out around the Spa circuit. It’s pretty bloody good I must say. You get all sorts of feedback. You can feel when the back end starts to go, and you get a little thump in the back from some hydraulic things when you change up which I thought was a nice touch. I set no ones world on fire with my lap times but begin to get the hang of it (I have my own race set up at home and have spent far too much time on it).
The session ends all too quickly and I am psyched for more. I get back in, and this time just to take the piss in front of Flick, begin doing my seat belts up really tight saying ‘this is it baby, I’m going for it now’. Flying down the Kemmel, I see the 100 board and stamp on the anchors. Wow!!! What I hadn’t realised is the seat belts are very much an interactive part of the experience. They tighten up really hard and give you the most amazing sensation of deceleration. I wished they had explained this feature when I had gotten in the first time! Really really cool! The lap times are falling, but it’s over so quickly. Eau Rouge eluded me flat out needless to say, but I nearly got there. I can only try and imagine what it’s like doing that for real in an F1 car. It’s scary enough in our Radical’s which do it quite comfortably flat at 125mph, let alone at 200mph!
The arcade allowance spent, we go for a walk through the museum to see what she has to offer. It’s impressive, really impressive! There is enough history to satiate the most ravenous of motorsport enthusiasts. There are obviously many cars, but some of the displays showing the engineer and drive trains from certain cars give a unique insight into what’s actually in the guys of a red prancing horse.
Another cool exhibit was standing in a sound booth and being able to listen to F1 engines rev, from various different era’s, from V16 to V8. I think one of my favourite exhibits was Nick Lauders helmet. It’s minute, and looks like it would protect you only if you fell off of your bicycle! Photo’s galore below so indulge yourself. The FXX track only version of La Ferrari has to be one of the sexiest things there in my humble opinion, but I still have to say I do like a good F40!!!
Enjoy the photos. Part two will follow in a week or so where I’ll tell you whether the 458 was worth the money, if the Mrs says ‘yes’ or not, and what the second best restaurant in the world tastes like……